When the DNR announced the first of Indiana’s free fishing days for 2018 on April 21st, the Jagers were itching to cast a line. We renewed our annual fishing licenses at the Big R and set up at our favorite spot at Martin’s Landing in Elkhart, Indiana on the shoreline of the St. Joseph River. After a long season of unpredictable weather, we looked forward to fishing together and reeling in the first catch.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single catch that day or the next three times we returned in the following weeks. Fishing can be a bit of an art coordinating the unenforceable timing of wind, rain, temperature, time of day, and location for the right conditions that the fish may bite. With persistent determination, we tried again on the 14th of May on a perfectly sunny day with just a slight breeze over the gentle surface of the water.
While our first hour was bleak, the fish were starting to tug on the line and nibble at our worms. “They’re awake!” Oh, what an evening of heightened suspense this might be. In the moments of waiting, there is a subtle balance between concentrating on each minuscule movement of the line that brushes across my index finger and an extended dreamy gaze into the abyss as the ducks pass in slow motion along the horizon line. I silence my thoughts and slowly breathe in the warm air, immersing myself in the natural world as if in meditation. “There might be a fish today,” Derek suggests, as I leaf through our journal entries noting that one year ago yesterday was our first successful day tallied for the 2017 season.
As I return to my trance, Derek suddenly yelps “Fish on! Fish on!” and I prop my rod down to rush to his side. The weight of the fish is too great for the line and we kick ourselves for forgetting our net. Derek hands me his fishing rod and runs down to the water’s edge while I steer it closer to him below. As he lifts the line from the water to remove his hook, a carp thrusts its body from side to side to wiggle free. With a quick slip of the hook, Derek releases the fish back to the water and chuckles from the thrill of the catch.
The spell is broken and we find our little honey-hole where the bluegills are nesting and really taking the bait. We recharge our spirits as we run through our container of red worms and the Jager fishing competition officially kicks off. It doesn’t take much to entice them as our tally grows over the span of our evening from one catch to another. Timing and location are essential to the success of our fishing as we point out hot spots to each other where we have noticed bites. Derek reels in a smallmouth bass and several bluegills for a total of eight fish and I slowly make my way up to three bluegills. We mark each catch in our journal and give the fish their own names such as Sunshine, Little Pearl, and Stumpy, to name a few.
As the sun lowers and a cool wind picks up short choppy waves, we decide to stay for just one more fish. I bait a nesting at the end of the pier with no success and move on to try another spot. Derek casts a line and hooks “the last fish” where I had tempted the nest below and graciously offers for me to reel it in. Our tally is complete for the evening as we name our last fish and toss her back in.